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The Driveabout

spring 2004 solo east coast tourI’ve decided it is time to have a look at America. So in a few hours, I’m heading out to see the country on what I like to call an epic driveabout.

I’m not really sure yet where I’m going, only that I need to be in LA by December 10th and would like to be back in Michigan by the 15th. I have no idea what I’ll see in between, but you can be sure I’ll be blogging daily about whatever I come across.

I’ve set up a few rules for the trip — at least for the first leg of it.

1: No highways

With all due respect to President Eisenhower, the interstate highway system is boring as hell. Everything looks the same, and because they are so over-engineered, you always feel like you are traveling painfully slow–even with the speedometer is pushing eighty miles an hour. So unless I need to bypass a sprawling metro area, highways are forbidden.

2: I’m hotwiring everything

I like my hotels cheap, clean and random. That is why I’m booking every night’s accommodation the morning of via The only requirement is that they provide free internet access and a full breakfast. And no, “continental breakfast” doesn’t count.

3. Every historical plaque will be read

Every single one of those green and gold historical plaques that line the highways has a story behind it. Usually one of a long and painful bureaucratic fight to get the damn thing erected in commiseration of a trivial event that only a handful of activists care about. That is good enough for me. So if I see a historical plaque, I’m stopping to read and photograph it.

4. The same thing goes for Wal-Drug and Mystery Spot-type attractions

If your cheesy tourist attraction has billboards for hundreds of miles, you’ve earned my visit. I’ll be stopping at each and every one of these shrines of Americana, provided, of course, that they take credit cards.

That’s about is. Aside from tourist traps with billboards and historical plaques, I have no real agenda. I’ll be checking in with Atlas Obscura every night to see if there is anything noteworthy coming my way, but other than that I’m open for suggestions.

If you know of something I should stop and see in the great swath of Red America between the Great Lakes and California, please let me know.

Check back tomorrow night for an update from Indiana, Illinois or Missouri.

Cars and Freedom [video]

Chrysler’s new ad men are doing a bang-up job. And no, I don’t care that the cars in the ad were actually made in Canada.

Giving birth while driving, now that is distracting

From the Detroit Free Press:

Amanda McBride went into labor last week as she was on her way to North County Regional Hospital, the Bemidji Pioneer reported.

General Motors said Wednesday that it would give a year’s supply of diapers to the Minnesota woman who delivered a baby while driving a Chevy car.

She was driving a red 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.

Joseph Phillips, the expectant father, was riding shotgun because he suffers from seizures.

“She yelled at me to grab the wheel,” Phillips told the newspaper.

He did. And she pulled down her pants. “And then the baby just came right out,” the woman was quoted as saying. “I was just sitting on the seat, and he just slid out. It really wasn’t bad at all.”

She held the baby, turned the heat up in the car and allowed Phillips to steer them to the hospital where everyone arrived safely.

And you thought it was all your driving that was causing climate change

Turns out, it is Chinese mine fires.

Via Marginal Revolution:

China alone loses between 100 million and 200 million tons of coal each year to mine fires, as much as 20 percent of their annual production, according to the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, based in Enschede, Netherlands. The Institute estimates that carbon dioxide emissions from these fires are as high as 1.1 billion metric tons, more than the total carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles in the United States. Second to China is India, where 10 million tons of coal burns annually in mine fires, contributing a further 51 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

I guess that means we call all feel better about cruising around with the our windows down and the A/C blasting.

They give out Pulitzer Prizes for this? [distracted driving]

Earlier this week the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.  The New York Times and Matt Richtel took home the National Reporting prize for their Distracted Driving series which openly campaign for banning the use of cell phones in cars.

This particular series relies almost exclusively on tragic anecdotes and technophobic scaremongering.  The data presented in the series  supporting banning cell phones  are based largely on eye-ball tracking studies and simulators—not real-world field tests.

Richtel and the Times did not hesitate to make very alarming claims like that using a cell phone is more dangerous than drunk driving, but they never once discussed the fact that despite the proliferation of cell phones, our roads are safer than ever before. Not only are fewer people dying in car crashes, we are getting in fewer collisions per 100,000 miles driven as well. Of course while the Times gave front page treatment to stories about the dangers of cell phones but relegated the news about declining fatality rates to a blog post.

The series was also unabashed in calling for legislative action to ban the use of all cell phones—even hands-free sets—from cars. But never bothered to discuss the costs and benefits of such a ban.

They even wrote sensationalist stories about the need to ban billboards and EMS and Fire Truck communication equipment on the basis that they might be distracting.

Let me repeat that, the Pulitzer Prizing-winning series on Distracted Driving not only never addressed the costs and benefits of banning cell phones, but it also suggested that we should restrict the lifesaving communications equipment inside ambulances and fire trucks on the grounds it might be distracting to professional EMS drivers.

This is the series that defeated an in-depth look at the shady dealings of Goldman Sachs for the Pulitzer.

In its own write-up of the award, the Times brags that the series has led more than 200 state legislatures and municipal governments to introduce cell-phone ban legislation.  I guess it is fitting that a series devoid of level-headed analysis is driving government action. After all, the prize’s namesake, Joseph Pulitzer, is credited along with William Randolph Heart with developing Yellow Journalism.

This rest area brought to you by Nike [naming rights]

sign 6We sell the naming rights to sports stadiums, parks and even potholes. So why not sell the naming rights to highway rest areas? That is precisely what New Jersey is considering doing.

Facing a crippling budget deficit and strong public opposition to closing highway rest areas, the New Jersey legislature is considering selling the naming rights of them to big corporations. I guess the thinking is that companies might pay top-dollar to be associated with the kind of relief that a rest stop can provide.

My only question is will they expand the program to allow you to sponsor a specific bathroom stall, kind of like we do with park benches?

Will the safety experts call for a bumper sticker ban now? [distracted driving]

IMG_5738cr.jpgTrying to read a bumper sticker on another car can be distracting for many of us. And it can be especially dangerous if you tailgate the car in order to get a better view of the sticker.

But for some people, seeing a simple Obama-Biden sticker is enough to send them into a mad rage and deliberately cause an accident. Perhaps the New York Times will add bumper stickers to their growing list of things we should ban in the name of road safety.

WKRN Nashville has the details of one case of bumper sticker road rage:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Nashville man says he and his 10-year-old daughter were victims of road rage Thursday afternoon, all because of a political bumper sticker on his car.

Mark Duren told News 2 the incident happened around 4:30p.m., while he was driving on Blair Boulevard, not far from Belmont University.

He said Harry Weisiger gave him the bird and rammed into his vehicle, after noticing an Obama-Biden sticker on his car bumper.

Duren had just picked up his 10-year-old daughter from school and had her in the car with him.

“He pointed at the back of my car,” Duren said, “the bumper, flipped me off, one finger salute.”

But it didn’t end there.

Duren told News 2 that Weisiger honked his horn at him for awhile, as Duren stopped at a stop sign.

Once he started driving again, down Blair Boulevard, towards his home, he said, “I looked in the rear view mirror again, and this same SUV was speeding, flying up behind me, bumped me.”

Duren said he applied his brake and the SUV smashed into the back of his car.

He then put his car in park to take care of the accident, but Weisiger started pushing the car using his SUV.

Duren said, “He pushed my car up towards the sidewalk, almost onto the sidewalk.”

Police say Harry Weisiger is charged with felony reckless endangerment in the incident.

Michigan Senate votes to make texting while driving a primary offense [distracted driving]

Long Beach Harbor Patrol Say No Photography From a Public SidewalkWhile they can’t find the time to balance the state budget, qualify for $800 million in federal road funds, or reform the state’s broken tax structure, the Michigan State Senate did find time today to pass sweeping legislation criminalizing the use of cell phones in cars. This is apparently a pressing issue—despite the fact that our roads are safer than ever before.

Under the bill, texting while driving would be a primary offence. This means that a police officer can pull you over for texting while driving—not just write you an additional ticket for it after you’ve already been stopped.

The Detroit Free Press has more:

The 28-10 Senate vote means the House must now agree with the Senate change. That agreement is uncertain because many House members opposed allowing police to stop drivers for text messaging, as they can for not wearing a seat belt. But Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, sponsor of the original bill, said he prefers the Senate version and said he’ll try to muster enough votes in the House to go along with it.

How, exactly the police will determine who is texting remains to be seen. I don’t know about you, but when I use a cell phone in the car it is often on my lap—a place that is very hard for anyone not in the car to see. Does this bill mean that anyone who glances down can now be pulled over for suspected texting while driving? What if I’m looking down to put hot sauce on my Taco Bell and the police think I’m texting? Will I get a ticket for that?

Here is more Distracted Driving coverage, including a look at why it is silly to ban cell phones in cars.

Chicken Little Safety Experts [cartoon]

An excellent editorial cartoon from last Sunday’s Detroit News.

Necessity is the mother of invention (and hoaxes)

The other day I asked if the Prius sudden acceleration hoax in California might actually be the greatest negative campaign stunt in American history.

Well, the folks over at Jalopnik have been digging into the story and it turns out the guy who owned the car was $750k in debt and might have been behind on his car payments. Oh, and he also has a history of making insurance claims on big-ticket items that go missing.

All in all, it looks like the Prius sudden acceleration hoax is just an imaginative remake of an insurance scam and not a devilishly brilliant smear campaign against Toyota.

I knew Detroit wasn’t that clever.

[Hat tip: Kevin]

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